Thanks for the coverage of our industry and the massive fire at a recycling warehouse in Richmond, Ind. I have to say I was quite angry about this fire and the black mark it placed on plastics recycling, plastics operations and the entire industry.
Even though this apparently was the result of the negligence — perhaps willful negligence of the ownership — there was also a failure of the local government in terms of permit enforcement, inspections to monitor compliance, and a failure to have the appropriate water capacity to fight the fire. Now legitimately permitted recycling operations will be suspect or not welcomed in the future in this community or others like it.
At one time I ran a company with seven plastics recycling plants in five states with the largest facility in Zion, Ill. The Zion plant processed over 80 million pounds per year out of a total of 170 million pounds companywide. We took seriously our obligation to fire prevention and safety, but also to partnership with local fire departments and life safety teams.
When we opened our 250,000-square-foot recycling plant in 2005, we invited the Zion Fire Department to tour the facility as it was being designed for their input on layout, sprinkler design and the fire loop around the facility. We worked closely with the city and invited them to train new inspectors and fire fighters at our plant. We wanted them as well as the local government officials and the community to feel comfortable with a large concentration of plastic materials, lawfully stored and processed in their community. We provided SDS sheets of the materials we stored and reviewed them with the fire inspectors. As we built plants in other states, this process was always repeated.
This investment in relationship building and transparency paid off as early one Father's Day morning, an arsonist jumped our fence and set fire to some pallets and bales of cardboard stored adjacent to the building. Since the fire started outside, it took a while for it to be discovered, but once the fire department responded, they knew exactly where to go to extinguish the fire, had complete access to the entire building, and knew that the sprinklers and water pressure was sufficient. The fire was extinguished quickly and thankfully with no injuries nor major physical damage and no damage to our relationships in town.
As an industry, we have created programs like Operation Clean Sweep and Operation Clean Sweep Blue to raise awareness and help implement programs to minimize and capture loose plastic pellets. When companies fail to control loose pellets — and they leaked into the environment — they have been fined and deservedly shamed as they placed undue scrutiny on plastics and safely operation plastic plants.
It is time to implement similar-type awareness and programs for fire safety, to guide companies on best practices and prevention and to engage the communities where plastics plants create jobs and economic growth. We should not tolerate companies that place additional risk upon their employees and their community and our industry as we look to expand recycling exponentially to meet customer demand.
Robert Render is president and CEO of Lakeside 360 Partners LLC in Skokie, Ill.